I’m gay. Homophobia forced me out of my workplace.
From hate to hope: a personal account
By Nikolas Regimbal
Homophobius — a monster invented by the Éducation et Enseignement Supérieur Québec — was created to inform students about the effects of homophobia. Despite Homophobius being labelled as “a creature threatened with extinction”, my experiences at work this year causes me to doubt that statement.
At my workplace, I had a habit of giving customers extra pastries, and this is what ultimately cost me my job. One night, I gave a few extra pastries to a female customer, and my coworker asked if I liked her. I answered by sharing that I was gay, and simply found it important to be kind to everyone. Immediately thereafter, their attitude towards me shifted, and I was constantly referred to as “fif” and “tapette” (Quebec slurs aimed at LGBTQ2+ people). Despite this, it took two consecutive events to compel me to complain: I was told, “I’m not a homophobe, but you’re all f*gs that can’t defend themselves”, and another coworker asked if I was also LGBTQ2+. I was suddenly struck with a moment of realisation. How could I stay silent and wait for them to become the next victim?
The next day, I filed a complaint with management, and their response left me feeling hopeful. That hope was quickly drained from me, however, when my colleague became confrontational and asked if I had been filing complaints about them. Around this time, I was also made aware that another colleague had been threatened in front of management, and no actions were taken. Still, I persisted. Whether I continued working there because I questioned its severity, or because I felt the need to protect my other LGBTQ2+ colleague, the following weeks took a heavy toll on my mental health. Management had refused to change our schedules, and told the employee harassing me that “it isn’t a big deal, just go apologise”. This consequently led to an endless spiral of harassment and sarcastic apologies.
Truthfully, I spent most days crying in my car at the end of my shifts, knowing that tomorrow would be the same. I lost all confidence in management to resolve this, and the situation felt hopeless. It was one last comment, however, that broke this cycle and awakened my anger. The turning point came when my colleague told me that they would remember I filed a complaint against them for a long time. In hindsight, that comment was fairly threatening, but at the moment I did not care. This was the day that I gave my two-weeks notice, and filed a complaint with the CNESST (Quebec Worker Protection Agency). I felt that I had no choice other than resignation. I was confused and lost — torn between feeling that I was abandoning my LGBT coworker, and saving myself. I loved many of my colleagues, but this situation dampened everything. I could have stayed, but at what cost?
"If another LGBTQ2+ person reads this story and feels empowered, it will have all been worth it."
On my last day, there was one final kick in the gut. I was forced to work with the person who had been harassing me. Irrespective of receiving an official complaint, my work had not bothered to change the schedule. Despite my employer’s lack of effort, the CNESST was helpful. An investigator was assigned to my case that very week, and they informed me that I had not quit, but had instead been illegally fired (Quebec law states that if a worker is forced to quit, they have been fired). Thankfully, we were able to reach an agreement in mediation. I have also had recourse with the QC Human Rights Commission, and a complaint has been filed. Despite the agreement, this situation has torn my life in half. While I have started a new job, I am still left picking up the pieces of my former ‘life’.
People often ask me why I complained, or made a big deal out of this... The answer is simple. I want other LGBTQ2+ people, who might fear coming out, to know that there is hope. It does get better. My current workplace is accepting, and my manager wears the pride colours to show their support. As for me, if another LGBTQ2+ person reads this story and feels empowered, it will have all been worth it. No one should feel unsafe because of who they are. No one has to endure workplace harassment.
"The beauty of standing up for your rights is others will see you standing and stand up as well." - Cassandra Duffy